The biggest wow factor during Saturday’s night’s Game 2 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs came at the 16:53 mark of the third period.
Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk collected a pass from Mikhail Grabovski in front of the net and, with his back to Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, spun, and after tic-tac-toeing the puck to himself, found an opening just inside the left post.
That magical goal put an exclamation mark on the Leafs’ 4-2 victory, which tied the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
As impressive as that highlight-reel play was, van Riemsdyk said it wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
“[Grabovski] had a lot of speed going through the neutral zone,’’ said van Riemsdyk, who was celebrating his 24th birthday. “I think he kind of drew two guys to him and I was able to slip in behind. He made a great pass to me and I tried originally to hold it and get across the net and shoot it, but I whiffed on it and then I was able to slide it in. Then I, gracefully or ungracefully as everyone would describe it, fell down and that was it. I’ll take it. To contribute like that is always fun. It’s just good to be part of a winning effort.’’
Van Riemsdyk has had a good amount of postseason success against the Bruins. He now has six goals against Boston, two in the first two games of this year’s series.
“Since I’ve been in the league, it always kind of seems like you’re going to meet them at some point in the playoffs, no matter what, because they’ve got such a strong team,’’ he said. “They’ve got a lot of good players. They’re a big, strong team and they play tough, as do we. Obviously, it’s going to continue to be a battle of a series. I think it’s something we embrace.’’
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle has his team on the tips of their skates at the bench with his frequent shuffling of lines.
“He’s a guy who has won a Stanley Cup [with Anaheim] so he knows what it takes and different buttons to push maybe,’’ said van Riemsdyk. “It’s our job as players to just go out there and execute the game plan. He’s done a good job of that all year having us prepared to play.’’
Van Riemsdyk said Carlyle adjusts his game plan on the fly and the players just have to react as he’s changing the combinations.
“He keeps a lot of that close to his vest, so you’ve just got to be ready when your number is called,’’ he said. “Anyone who follows the game knows that when a coach wins the Stanley Cup, how hard that is to do. He has that respect from us. We have a lot of trust in him.’’
One person not remotely surprised by van Riemsdyk’s success is University of New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, who had van Riemsdyk on his team for two years before the young player elected to turn pro after his sophomore season in 2009.
“That was a terrific goal that he scored,’’ said Umile, who exchanged text messages with van Riemsdyk after Game 2. “He seems to play well against Boston. He was a terrific player for us. His younger brother Trevor was an All-American for us this year as a defenseman. James is one of the young talents in the NHL. He’s gotten stronger and obviously he’s very skilled. He’s an extremely smart hockey player.’’
Umile said as tough as it was for the program to lose him, he said van Riemsdyk was ready for the next step in his career.
“It’s all about timing,’’ said Umile. “Needless to say, we’d like to see the guys stay but sometimes the opportunity is right and he was ready to play and he proved that. [The goal in Game 2] is what he can do, he can finish. That’s why he’s a goal scorer. He loves the game and he really understands it.’’
Van Riemsdyk, who is from Middletown, N.J., had his parents and brother in the stands for Game 2 and he said he still has a real fondness for the Boston area given his college experience.
“I had different opportunities to go different places for college,’’ said van Riemsdyk. “I chose to stay in the Northeast and the New England area just because I wanted to be closer to home. I really like this part of the country. I had a lot of fun my two years at UNH playing in and around Boston. It’s fun for me to play in this rink. It’s loud, it’s a good atmosphere, and it makes it fun for the players.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.